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February 2019

Headshot of author Dan ElliotSelf Defense on the Job Is Like Defensive Driving

By Dan Elliot, Cooperative Communication Specialist

Often, I am asked for tips on being safe at work. There are lots of techniques, but there are things to be considered first, especially for adult protective services investigators dealing with clients in their own homes.

When I ask APS workers what comes to mind when they hear “self-defense,” the common reply is some form of physical response to a physical attack. Their response is usually choreographed with a karate chop. I suggest an expanded perspective: Self-defense is anytime you make a decision to keep yourself physically OR emotionally and psychologically safe. It’s not just about preventing physical harm, it’s also about setting emotional and psychological boundaries. It’s about confronting others when they show disrespect, verbally threaten, or get too personal.

Self-defense is like defensive driving. When do we think about our safety when driving down the highway? All the time. There are specific things we do to maintain that safety such as putting on our seat belt, checking mirrors, maintaining safe distances, turning on headlights, and using turn signals. We can even consider good maintenance and awareness of traffic laws. We adjust our awareness and behavior when driving in bad weather, in a construction zone, or in heavy traffic based upon the increased level of risk.

Self-defense on the job is best approached like defensive driving: Paying attention all the time and increasing awareness as risks go up. As in the specific things we do in defensive driving, do the following to maintain safety on the job:

Trust your instincts. The funny feeling you get when something doesn’t seem right is your intuition telling you that you are at risk and need to pay attention. If you can quickly figure out what the challenge is and take action, great. If you cannot figure it out quickly, then figure it out from further away. The best self-defense strategy is don’t be where the danger is.

Pay attention to your surroundings. It is easy to be distracted or to not pay attention, particularly in places you go often. How many of us drive from work to home and don’t remember the trip? Know where nearby safe places are when going into neighborhoods.

Pay attention to the behavior of others. Clients often telegraph what’s going on for themselves through body language, words, and voice without realizing it. You can know what’s going on for a client even before they do, giving you more options in deescalating or leaving before things get out of control.

Recognize the emotional state a client is in and deescalate accordingly. It’s not one size fits all for de-escalation.

  1. When frustrated, clients need support in accomplishing their goals.
  2. When frightened, clients seek safety and comfort.
  3. When angry, clients need you to understand that the underlying emotions driving their anger are valid.
Paying attention to the larger picture. Often workers will become so focused on the client they ignore what’s going on in the environment or with others around them.

In short, like driving a car, being aware and trusting your skills and instincts are the keys to personal safety.

About the Author: Dan Elliot is a Cooperative Communication Specialist. Visit his website for more information.

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